One of the first things I learned as an FBI agent was that the public had expectations when I walked through the door. They expected a confident, polished, and competent agent to listen to their concerns. Their first impression was the critical metric by which they judged me.
I learned early in my career it’s not what you do, it’s how you look doing it.
Perception becomes reality. Often, the difference between average people and successful ones is how they project the right image.
If you’re a loser or a wimp, you don’t have to worry about how others perceive you because news like that travels fast, no matter the crowd. If, however, you want to pull away from the pack and get noticed for all the right reasons, you need to look confident even if you don’t feel that way. Especially if you don’t feel that way.
Four months at the FBI Academy as a new agent taught me to be confident, no matter the situation or time of day. There were many ways the instructors boosted my confidence, and all of them required hard work, self-awareness, and mental toughness.
Unfortunately, confidence can be transitory. We have it one minute and the next—poof, it’s gone! We still need to meet with our boss, defend a decision, or persuade a new client we can deliver on our promises.
“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy”—Dale Carnegie
So get busy—learn how to fool people and look more confident:
1. Watch Body Language
Forget those Amy Cuddy poses intended to make you feel like Superman. Fellow psychologists debunked her research and with good reason—she missed the point. It’s not that we are changed; instead, we can use body language to influence the way we are perceived by our audience.
We convey important information to others through our body language. When we get the gestures right, we send the message we’re confident and in control.
“A good stance and posture reflect a proper state of mind”—Morihei Ueshiba
How To Make It Work For You: Torso movements are great power poses because they are governed by our emotional limbic brain system and are indicative of our comfort level. Turn your torso toward a person to signal confidence and trust. Notice when you turn your torso away from a person so you’re in a bladed stance. It signals that you’d rather be somewhere else and hints of a discomfort level on your part.
2. Employ The Snap Judgment Advantage
We make snap judgments and base important decisions on small amounts of information. One of the easiest ways to fool people and look more confident is to put on the right face.
Research by psychologist Alex Todorov suggests that when our brain sees a new face, it forms an opinion about that person within a tenth of a second. The research confirms that we respond to faces so rapidly that our reasoning mind may not have time to influence our reaction.
Most of us assume we take a more sophisticated response when we see a new face and filter our opinion through our thinking brain, but this is not the case. Our snap judgments about attraction, competence and demeanor are among the first we form.
We trust our subconscious gut response because first impressions can be very accurate. When we’re asked to think about why we trust our gut, we become less accurate. So much for thinking…
How To Make It Work For You: The easiest and most effective way to fool people and look more confident is to smile. When you smile, you tell others that you’re confident and in control. As simple as that sounds, it needs to be the right smile.
Dump the botox and live with creases around the eyes—those lines are essential if you want to give a real smile and signal to others you are genuine.
You give away power with tight-lipped smiles that don’t reveal teeth. They send the message you’re hiding something. It’s a common way for women to signal rejection.
Make eye contact because it lets people know that you’ve focused your attention on them. When you make solid eye contact, it makes you seem more confident, friendly, and empathetic. It will also help you relax and show others you’re on top of it.
3. Adjust Your Attitude
Confidence is a state of mind. It’s not a feeling you can turn on and off depending upon the circumstances. Confidence is a perception in your mind that you can handle whatever comes your way.
Confidence in yourself doesn’t mean that life is perfect. You can wish your heart away and still be overweight, in debt, and without a loving partner.
No, delusion is not the answer. The solution is not to feel as though you lack nothing; the solution is to be grateful for what you have and comfortable with what you lack in life. Because guess what? People who are rich, famous, and attractive can still lack confidence in themselves.
People fool others and look more confident all the time. The charade is all around us but if you want to feel comfortable in your own skin, you will need to be satisfied with 1) what you’ve achieved right alongside with 2) what you’ve not achieved in life.
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”—Oscar Wilde
How To Make It Work For You: Perfect lives exist only in self-help books and Hallmark movies. The rest of us poor slobs need to make do with reality. Only wimps cry defeat when met with failure, rejection, and hurt. This means we need to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and accept the fact that the road to success is paved with lots of failed experiments along the way.
4. Maintain Perspective
We can all be hit with a fear of the unknown that leaves us paralyzed. Our imagination takes over and uncertainty rears its ugly head. Often we’re blindsided by a sudden lack of confidence that erupts and leaves us stalled and hesitant to move forward.
When this happens, bring those fears back down to size. Ask yourself if you will remember this the next day? Next year? Ten years from now?
At this point it’s important to distinguish between lack of confidence and lack of information. If you need to learn more about the situation in front of you before you make a decision, ask for clarity. Take the time to identify which emotion is driving your behavior. Is it fear, anger, frustration, shame?
If you maintain perspective on your situation, you can find ways to move ahead in the midst of uncertainty. If you wait until you feel confident before you take action, you’ll always be a victim of your weakest emotion.
Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle… when the sun comes up, you’d better be running—African Proverb.
How To Make It Work For You: Channel memories of confidence and recall a time when you successfully navigated a difficult problem in the past. Identify what makes you less confident now, in this situation? Use it as an opportunity to teach yourself an important lesson so lack of confidence doesn’t show its sorry ass again.
5. Be Consistent
You will never fool people if you show confidence in one situation and then regress to a sad sack attitude about yourself in another one.
There are many easy ways you can fake confidence, but since confidence is an attitude you have about yourself, start with the basics. Be consistent in how you present yourself in every situation, not just the one in front of you.
We become who we want to be by consistently being that person. If you don’t believe in yourself, how do you expect anybody else to?
How To Make It Work For You: As trivial and trite as it sounds, dress well. Take advantage of those vacuous reality TV shows and watch what they wear. You will never find a more self-absorbed culture in the world and they judge everything by the way a person dresses and presents themselves. Take a tip from them. When you speak, be consistent and make certain that your tone is strong and that you speak with clarity.
“I’ve never had a loud voice, but I’ve always had a strong one”—LaRae Quy
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